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Hanging loose: ‘Please just have me killed, Mr President’

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Former kamiti death row inmate Daniel Wachira with his great-grandchild after he was released on power of mercy granted by the president. He had served for 24 years.

Joseph Mwathi Nyanjui wants to die at 24. The key to his death wish is held by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Nyanjui, a death row convict, has written to the president to allow prison authorities to execute him without much fuss.

The former hawker was sentenced to death in 2011 on robbery with violence charges. Nyanjui, who was sentenced to death by Kiambu Magistrate Geoffrey Oduor, maintains his innocence pending a Court of Appeal ruling.

His first appeal was at the High Court where the judges, Lydia Achode and Richard Mwongo, upheld Judge Oduor’s verdict.

The last born in a family of four is not hopeful of receiving any good news from the Court of Appeal that is set to hear his appeal in two weeks. The prospect of an agonising old age in the slammer is not one he looks forward to.

Joseph Nyanjui, whom we could not photograph as all electronic gadgets are left at the prison’s reception, claims he is being subjected to psychological torture by being held indefinitely in death row, and would rather he was just executed. Immediately.

But only President Uhuru can sign his death warrant under the law. In fact, just this week President Uhuru released Daniel Wachira, a condemned man on death row and 100 others through employing the ‘Prerogative of Mercy’ that the president wields. Wachira was on death row for 24 years

The problem with Nyanjui’s plea is that no Kenyan slapped with the death penalty has been executed in 27 years, even though the sentence still exists in our penal code.

Another problem for Nyanjui, who has added weight at the Kamiti Maximum Prison, which he disparagingly describes as being “fattened on state funds,” is that Kenya has no hangman.

The last long-serving executioner at the Death Pit (in Kamiti), Kirugumi wa Wanjuki, died in 2009. This is curious, given that Kenya has more than 1,600 death row convicts doing time in prisons.

In 2009, Kenya had 4,000 offenders waiting to be hanged when retired President Mwai Kibaki exercised the Power of Mercy and commuted their sentences to life imprisonment.

About five years later, 1,600 convicts are languishing in death row waiting for the hangman. Wanjuki served for 13 years at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison before quietly retiring and later dying at 86. He joined the Prisons Service at 37 and underwent training as a hangman before succeeding his predecessor, an Asian man.

The Prisons Service has never trained another hangman, even though the death penalty has not been abolished in Kenya. Crimes punishable by death include murder, aggravated robbery, attempted robbery, treason, administering of oaths and military offences.

A senior Prisons’ officer said they have been pushing to have the death penalty abolished as it was the source of many murders and violent crimes.

He said from their experience and interactions with jailed offenders, people commit capital offences knowing they will not be killed as stipulated in law.

“We have been fighting to have the death penalty done away with completely, because it is of no value, but instead is the root cause of security challenges. People commit murder knowing very well that nothing will be done to them. They know that upon conviction, they will while away their time in prison,” said the officer.

Many executions were carried out in Kamiti. Abortive 1982 coup plotters Pancras Oteyo Okumu and Hezekiah Ochuka Rabala, were the last to be hanged on May 17, 1987.

Ochuka met his death with “composure and defiance” Kirugumi recalled in a 2004 interview.

On murder, the penal code states: “any person who of malicious aforethought causes the death of another person by an unlawful act or omission is guilty of murder.”

It goes on to say that any person convicted of murder shall be sentenced to death.

Pursuant to the Kenya Defence Forces Act, treachery, spying, aiding enemies of the state, assisting enemies with intelligence information, misconduct, mutiny and unlawful advocacy for a change of government are all death-eligible offenses for members of the Kenya Defence Forces.

Treason is punishable by death. A variety of acts, including sedition, intended to undermine or overthrow the government, harm or kill the president or instigate or engage in war against the Republic of Kenya, are deemed as acts of treason.

Prisons Commissioner General, Isaiah Osugo, did not respond to our call and text message.

A Prisons source intimated that should circumstances demand the need for a hangman, the services of the military are likely to be sought. Military spokesman Bogita Ongeri promised to crosscheck this claim and revert back to The Nairobian.

The Nairobian

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